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When I finished the song, Aria’s hands fell to her sides. Her chest rose and fell heavily as she stared at her controlled chaos.

She turned toward me. I smiled. She smiled.

The whole room smiled and cheered, rising to their feet applauding our masterpieces.

* * *

“That was fantastic!” Abigail gushed, bouncing over to Aria and me after the show, Simon’s hand locked with hers. “I knew you both were talented, but what you did up there was beyond talented. Way to make everyone else up there seem ridiculously average in comparison.”

“Well, you know.” Aria smirked, her hands resting on her stomach. “Some people were born to stand out.”

“Which you two absolutely did!” Lance said, walking over toward us with Dad following slowly behind. “That was amazing. For a moment I thought Art was going to get up there and paint the same way she played the drums, but luckily you were the complete opposite. That was mind-blowing. And you!” He clapped, his face beaming with pride. He wrapped my head in his hands, kissing my forehead. “You are the kind of musician I want to be when I grow up.”

“He’s right, you know,” Mr. Watson said, flapping the showcase program against his hands. “You’re the real deal, Levi.”

I waited for him to add ‘for a dirtbag’ or ‘for a fucked-up loser’, but he didn’t. He looked over at my dad and gave a smile that almost looked apologetic. “He’s good, Kent.”

Dad just nodded once and kind of smiled, which felt like a giant hug.

“If it’s okay with your parents, Lance and I set up a celebration party back at our place with a ridiculous amount of music, art, and pizza!” Daisy offered. Aria and I whined at the idea of Daisy’s pizza; it was probably made out of dirt, or would at least taste like it was. Daisy laughed knowingly. “Don’t worry, it’s not vegan. I figured you all might like those disgusting genetically modified organisms that are filled with deadly chemicals and poisons that are slowly but surely leading to the end of mankind as we know it.”

“Ohmygosh, I hope you got pepperoni,” Aria joked. She turned to her parents to ask if she could go to Lance and Daisy’s.

After a small bit of hesitation, Simon jumped into the conversation. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Aria’s on her best behavior.”

“Just make sure to stay off of your feet,” Mrs. Watson ordered her daughter.

“And call me if you need a ride home,” her dad said, stepping near her and kissing her forehead. Her eyes widened at her dad’s action. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “You were fantastic tonight.”

Tears formed in Aria’s eyes as she thanked him.

Simon and Abigail agreed to meet us at Soulful Things after they stopped by their houses. I was pretty sure it was just an excuse to make out some more.

36 Aria

“You were amazing, tonight,” I told Levi. I’d never heard him play like that, free and raw.

“You weren’t half bad yourself,” he said as we stepped into Soulful Things after Lance and Daisy dropped Kent back at home with the nurse. Daisy had music playing throughout the space and there were tables set up with pizza and snacks. We spent the next hour talking about the showcase. We laughed about how Connor’s paintings had ended up looking like awkward penises, we were impressed that Ms. Jameson had finally decided to shave her beard, and we were not in the least bit surprised that Mr. Harper had gone on a long monologue about his past love with Leonardo da Vinci.

“I’m gonna miss that class,” Levi said, sitting against the floor with his legs wrapped around a bongo that he banged every now and then.

“Me too.” Mostly I would miss working with my partner each day. Next semester meant the start of homeschooling for the remainder of the year. I was going to miss the best Abigail quotes during lunch, and sitting on the dirty bus next to Simon, but mostly I would miss kicking invisible rocks with those blue Chucks each morning at the bus stop.

“Where exactly are Simon and Abigail?” Levi asked, ripping me away from my thoughts, which were getting a little too sad. “They said they would be here thirty minutes ago.”

Just like magic, Abigail opened the front door of Soulful Things. Her eyes were wide, and she was panting as if she’d run all the way from her house. Her hands landed on her hips as she bent forward, trying to catch her breath. “Simon’s in a terrible mood.”

“What? Because you two had to stop kissing?” I joked.

“No.” She shook her head. “Much worse than that—although that was pretty awful, too. I tried to calm him down by saying, ‘You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.’ Do you know who said that?”

“Marcus Aurelius,” Levi replied without thought.

She arched an eyebrow. “How did you know that?”

“Lucky guess,” he said, winking my way.

“This wasn’t the plan!” Simon came barging into the shop. “I can’t believe they would do this to me!” he shouted, his breaths heavy while his fingers were wrapped around a piece of paper.

“Who exactly is doing what to you?” I questioned.

“My parents! This wasn’t a part of the plan, we weren’t supposed to leave!”

My throat tightened. “What?”

“My dad was offered a job promotion,” he explained. “I found the paperwork on the living room table. They didn’t even tell me about it!”